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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Goochland Passes Ordinance Aimed at Shooting Ranges

On August 7th, the Goochland County Board of Supervisors ignored the pleas of gun owners and Andrew Dykers, owner of Orapax Shooting Preserve, and passed a zoning ordinance requiring a "special use" permit to open a shooting range. This was a direct end run around a zoning appeal that Orapax had pending with the Board of Zoning Appeals scheduled for September 7th.

It has become increasingly harder for shooters to find places to shoot and the 700 acre Orapax property seemed like a prime location to provide shooters another choice to shoot sporting clays. Unfortunately, as we have seen all to often over the last several years, anti-gun residents of rural counties are filing noise complaints to prevent ranges from opening or to try and end their operation.

With last night's decision, Goochland County landowners who want to operate shooting ranges will have to apply for special permits .

The board's vote came late last night, several hours after the meeting began, said Kevin Funk, a lawyer for Goochland landowner Andrew Dykers.

Dykers said yesterday that he believes his attempt to run a clay-target shooting range on his land is behind the ordinance change. He owns Orapax quail-hunting preserve on his 672-acre property off state Route 6 in eastern Goochland. "The whole purpose of this is to try to deny this permit to me," he said. Mr. Dykers and his wife, Nancy, have owned the property since 1980 and lived on the property since 1987.

Don Charles, Goochland's director of community development, said the ordinance change to require a conditional-use permit for shooting ranges will affect commercial operations, not landowners shooting guns in their backyards.

According to Charles "This doesn't mean that if a property owner wanted to shoot in their backyard, they need to have a conditional-use permit," But don't be fooled. The vote last night will open up the opportunity for anti-gun residents to complain if they don't like their neighbor's target practice. It has already happened in Culpeper County based on emails received by VSSA from victims of this type of harrassment.

William Quarles, a member of the Board of Supervisors, said the change is not an attempt to take away anybody's rights. He said the permit requirement had been in the zoning ordinance until it was eliminated last year. The requirement "would reinstate the ordinance so that people could decide whether they want something like this put in their neighborhood," Quarles said. Neighboring Louisa County also requires a conditional-use permit for shooting ranges.

Mr. Dykers ran a shooting range alongside his hunting preserve from 1989 to 1991. When neighbors complained about the noise, county officials informed him that he had to apply for a conditional-use permit for the business. He applied for one and was denied, forcing him to shutter the operation, he said.

When the county government reissued the zoning ordinances for agricultural land last year, the restriction on shooting ranges disappeared. The remaining ordinance section allowed for undefined accessory uses on farmland for which property owners do not have to apply for a permit. Farmers increasingly have opened up ventures on their land to supplement their incomes.

Mr. Dykers said he believes that a sporting clays range would be just such an accessory use. In March, he asked county officials to affirm his right to operate a clay-target shooting range at Orapax, but he was turned down in a letter. Mr. Dykers appealed the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which set a September hearing date for the matter. Around the same time, county officials proposed to reinstate the permit requirement for shooting ranges on agricultural property.

"It's terribly unethical -- not illegal, but unethical -- to be changing laws that are in litigation," Dykers said.

The Richmond Times Dispatch quoted Goochland resident Joe Trice, who lives about 1½ miles from the proposed shooting range, attended last night's meeting. He said he remembers the noise from when Dykers operated it between 1989 and 1991. He described it as a nuisance that he likened to someone knocking lightly on the wall in the next room. "The problem is not the noise volume, but the number of shots," Trice said. "It goes on and on and on."

The RTD quoted another nearby resident, Tucker Hill, said he is afraid the noise will have another impact. "This thing depreciates our property values, and nobody has the right to do that."

This is a set back for gun owners after several victories against proposed ordinances aimed a restricting shooting on private property but the battle is not over. There is a pending appeal with the Board of Zoning Appeals and Mr. Dykers has a strong case. Several of the supervisors said they would only support the proposal if it would not negatively impact the pending appeal. VSSA will continue to keep gun owners posted on any action they can take to assist in this matter.

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